Road to VR‘s Scott Hayden goes hands on with Valve’s latest virtual reality experience, a collection of experiments in immersive gaming known as ‘The Lab’.


In the first public showing of the Lab, we got a chance to jump into 4 different areas. The first was what Valve is calling a ‘postcard’ – a beautifully rendered photogrammetry captured scene of real-world mountain, Vesper Peak.

I was transported to the peak and greeted by a sort of slinky robot dog that wanted to play fetch with a number of sticks scattered around. Teleporting with my left controller, I explored the peak, which because of the photogrammetry was a 1:1 experience in terms of realism.

Soon I had to bid my robot dog farewell (he wanted to keep playing and having his robot-tummy rubbed) and zapped to a demo called Slingshot.

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A conveyor belt of the iconic spherical robots runs past me in an industrial center. I’m atop a platform with a mechanical slingshot with a hopper loaded with fully-sentient robot spheres. Voices provided by Rick and Morty’s Justin Roiland had me cackling at his usual free-style self-deprecation. Each bot told me a story about how they would do their job and the intricacies of their personalities before I dispassionately lobbed them at a teetering structure of boxes and stacked metal.

The next was a 3d meteor-style game called Xortex. Xortex gives you a mini spaceship to play with–fitting you inside of a 2 meter sphere. It instantly reminds me of playing with spaceship toys as a kid, and the haptics buzzing in time with the toy ships thrusters makes you feel like this is how it always should have been as a kid. The object is to shoot the baddies that pop out of nowhere, and dodge the mass of their slowly moving laser pulses and collect power-ups. Get struck once though and its a big game over.

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Longbow was the next, a tower defense game that puts you inside the guard tower of a castle with a bow and arrow. You can light the bow on fire – shoot down pots of boiling oil – explosive barrels – and knock the helmets off the little pocket universe paper guys that come with shields and swords. Immense fun and a great way of learning the basic physics of projectiles.

Then I was brought to the Hub, a room filled with large dioramas and teleport spheres, reflective orbs that you hold up to your head to activate. While I used these spheres to get from one experience to another, I wasn’t allowed to go any further an explore the space or go into any other demos. On the white board behind me though I saw several others listed that they weren’t showing, a good 6 more that promise to introduce core mechanics of VR to curious new comers with a HTC Vive in hand or other Steam VR-compatible headset.

The level of graphical polish is incredibly high on each of these experiences/minigames, something that we’ve come to expect from Valve’s VR department. Voice acting, character interactions, and a tight understanding of hand controlled devices with the HTC Vive make it clear that Valve isn’t just throwing out interesting tech demos for the sake of it, but rather using the demo collection to give Steam VR users a ready-made tour of the headset and it’s capabilities. Talking to Valve’s Chet Faliszek, he told me that each demo was a way for the company to explore and share what they’ve learned about VR in a cohesive, and ever changing way. We expect to see more of Valve’s experiments in the coming future.

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The Lab is free and will be released in full as an exploration of VR locomotion and other VR-specific game mechanics. There are no plans yet to release each demo as a stand-alone game (even if I’m going to spend a bunch of time in Xortex).

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  • polysix

    Great! Vive is seriously killing the rift as far as interactivity, immersion and FUN goes. Rift launch looks dull and is mostly stuff you could do on normal screen. Vive is everything the rift is and way more. Mine is pre ordered and due in early april! :)

    • DericLee

      Fanboys are already starting to ruin the online social interactions about VR….sigh

      • polysix

        Rift fans have been doing that for weeks before Vive fans started, where the fuck have you been? ;)

        • PianoMan

          …… and so it begins.

          • Kraufthauser

            And it’s not about to end soon….

          • Mark Godfrey

            Soooo another Babylon 5 season?!?

          • Dave

            That would be so awesome.

        • DericLee

          Yep, it is the internet after all, glad you are helping to keep the expectations low.

        • michaeltenery

          Most of us are happy with Vive folks and hope they enjoy their VR experience but are seriously tired of them dumping on the Rift instead of just being excited about the awesome choices in VR.

          • DougP

            Most I’ve encountered have said things along the lines of:
            1) xbox is the controller of the future of VR (forgetting St.Palmer, pre-Facebook sellout, used to honestly say -“traditional controllers are crap for VR”)
            2) anyone who wants to use their own high-quality headphones are just stupid (/prideful!)- the built-in ones on the Rift are the best!
            3) i’m Soooo glad I have to wait for motion control (& don’t know how much it will cost) – that’s the BEST strategy to “ease us in to VR slowly”
            I kid you not…I’ve seen this BS come out of so many Rift fanboys who are upset something better came along.
            Blame Palmer for selling out & Facebook taking over & doing weird back-door deals w/Microsoft….don’t blame HTC or Valve.

    • Fil

      So happy for you dude, I’ve used one before and it’s just mind-blowingly awesome! :)

    • Dayv5d

      One thing you REALLY learn using the rift pre is, that it is NOT build for Core-Gaming AT ALL. It is great quality experience! But roomscale adds almost nothing to the games most of us are waiting on. Think about it: What kind of full-size 3d 1st person game could take advantage of the moving space of YOUR living room? Chaperone works ok, but it does NOT magically remove the tiny borders of your gaming room. You walk 3 Steps. Thats it! Then u got to do the 180… And you pretty much need a second person for all those caples -.-. And the vive wands: Precision is great… BUT those are NOT gaming controlls. You want to shoot a gun with those? Surely not! But Tiltbrush is nice though…

  • PianoMan

    What would be interesting is a list that details which games are compatible with both headsets and which are only on a specific headset. As some of the Rift games are also coming out on Vive I believe.

    Also I have a question; I already have gaming PC – i7 2600 cpu, gtx 970, 16gb Ram. Wondering if that would be enough? I have already ordered a i5 6600K over clock and a new MB for the newer CPU. Would have my old CPU been enough or no? I can’t check the HTC vive system readiness software as I am in the US at present and my computer is at home in the UK. I put in a order for the HTC Vive the morning pre-sales were open.

    • Matt Drauch

      i7 2600 owner here. I have it overclocked (you need a z68 or z77 board) to 4.1ghz by changing the turbo boost settings. If you have the recommended graphics cards, the cpu at stock is enough to pass valve’s readiness tests. If you can overclock it a bit (no voltage change necessary) then your cpu will exceed the performance of the recommended i5 4590 CPU.

      • PianoMan

        Well I already have the i5 6600K and MB. I thought you could only overclock the 2600K – I think there was a K version. Would I be better off just using the i5 6600K and MB I have now or was that a waste? the MB I have the 2600 on is a H77 board. Just wondering if you guys think it’s worth just keeping what I have already on the PC, or using the i5 6600K and MB (it’s a basic itx H110 MB). I aim to upgrade later to a larger case and a bigger ATX overclockable board. Any help appreciated.

        • Matt Drauch

          I have a non-K 2600. Sandy Bridge chips allowed you to change the multiplier steppings of the turbo boost for 1,2,3 and 4 core situations. You can move it up 4 (or 5 depending on who you ask) steppings from stock, and it will work properly. If you have a K version, then better still! It will easily reach the performance levels needed. Otherwise the 6600K will also (obviously) be fast enough to do it. The point is, either one could work, given the right GPU.

    • Kodak

      I have the same exact specs and my computer does the SteamVR Performance Test in the “Ready” part of the result spectrum.
      To be more specific, my CPU is an i7 2600K, but otherwise I have an Asus GTX 970 Turbo and 16 GB RAM on an Asus Sabertooth Z77.
      I’m not worried and I think you shouldn’t be either. :)

      • PianoMan

        Thanks for the information and confirmation, very helpful.

  • 3i

    Jack me in, man.

  • Nodeblockhead

    Waiting for my Vive. From what I have read and seen the Vive is the better of the two. Perhaps it’s not only time will tell.

    • gabriel garcia

      It doesn’t matter which one you have, they are for different main uses. Oculus = sit down experience, Vive = moving experience. You can use both if you want.

      • Clemency77

        Actually, it’s “Oculus = sit down experience, Vive = moving experience and sit down experience.”

        • Alex

          Yep. A Vive dev had a great way of saying this. “Thinking Vive can’t do seated VR is like thinking color TVs can’t do black and white”

          • Torben Bojer Christensen

            With the software currently available i suspect that at least 90% of the usage the first year will be sit down experiences.

            Both are great products in my book. But what settled the choice for me towards the Vive (besides the room-scale), was also the reports that the Vive had the same 110 degree horisontal viewing angle together with a higher vertical FOV/higher aspect ratio and as such in practice even more field of view.

          • Torben Bojer Christensen
        • gabriel garcia

          thats true.

      • Cymen

        No, the Vive can do seated experiences. The Oculus can’t do roomscale because it doesn’t support 360° of tracking.

        • Andy B

          Surely all it would need is another camera at the rear of the room, maybe a pad of sensors on the back of your head? I don’t think it’ll be long before Oculus is selling upgrades.

          • There are already sensors on the back of the Rift. It supports 360 seated experiences out of the box, and 360 room scale with purchase of the Touch controllers which come with an extra camera.

          • george mckenzie

            nope nope nope. In a month or two you’re going to feel really stupid for believing that. the oculus tracking solution is complete shit, and it most definitely is not capable of 360 room scale

          • “The ‘Constellation’ tracking works flawlessly, and feels even better at 90Hz compared to the 75Hz of the Rift DK2. The consumer Rift now also features tracking points on the back of the headset which allows for 360 degree tracking which worked seamlessly for me throughout my testing, even when explicitly attempting to foil the sensor by having my head turned 90 degrees to it where the tracking system should be most prone to failure.”

            -Ben Lang (Road To VR)

            “The Touch controllers work very well… felt and performed like final products, and worked flawlessly in tandem with the Rift.”

            -Will Greenwald (PCmag)

            These are just two of many examples in the press, one from this very website, which strongly correlate the idea that the Rift will be more than capable of accomplishing a convincing room-scale experience. Nothing more than good tracking of the headset and controllers is needed to achieve this feat. I’m sorry sir, you’ll need to do more than simply proclaiming your personal convictions with vigor to persuade me otherwise.

        • Dayv5d

          It DOES support full 360 tracking.

  • Tj Davids

    I’m extremely excited but also very frustrated with the complete lack of pictures or videos from this event.
    How can 2 incredible devices be coming out in 2 to 3 weeks and have so little depth to actually show for it?

    • Clemency77

      Dude, there is so much coverage and videos of the vive in action if you’re willing to do a google search. There’s not much left to find about until it’s in your hands. Psyched!

      • brandon9271

        and he worries about this AFTER he preordered.. *smh*

        • Tj Davids

          I’m not worried. Never said I was, stop shaking your head long enough to read what i wrote brandon.

      • Tj Davids

        There is little to no real videos or images from “this event” like i said. I am commenting on the lack of coverage of “this event” especially pertaining to the VIVE. I want to see some actual new footage from an event that is supposedly all about VR

    • AugustaResident88

      I think you have a valid point but there is also a reason for it. Valve has been in the gaming business a long time and knows how to market games. I think they realized early on that the photos and videos do not do these demos justice and may actually be detrimental when they become the focus of an article. The “you’ve gotta try this” reviews by those who have tried them are more powerful and have been successful at building the excitement they are looking for.

  • Tj Davids

    I pre-ordered the VIVE, but if this ONE “game” announcement and a lousy picture of the Valve logo and stock HMD pic are all they have to show for the GDC i have no idea why all these VIVE people are so happy. This thing comes out in less than a month and almost cost a grand after taxes and shipping.

    • Alex

      A grand? No, it’s a solid $170 away from that. Don’t need to overestimate just for hyperbole’s sake.

      • Tj Davids

        Mine was 890 after taxes and shipping. Not much of an overestimation. When i spend 900 dollars i generally feel like i spent almost a grand. Why even reply on a technicality?

  • Jack Liddon

    Getting tired of the pissy attitude so many people have on these comments. Grow up, already. What’s the point of jumping down someone’s throat for being enthusiastic about one gadget or the other? It’s no skin off your ass.